Substance abuse is a major issue in America. According to the latest figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2014, approximately 8.1 percent of the population over the age of 12 had a substance abuse disorder or about 21.5 million Americans. Over two-thirds of these individuals had issues with alcohol, and nearly 8 million individuals had a substance use disorder and co-occurring psychological disorder.
Recovering from a substance use disorder is a long-term endeavor. Many people are still under the mistaken impression that going through withdrawal management and rehab are the only aspects of the recovery process; however, these are simply preparatory stages to prepare individuals for the long-term process of recovery and developing a drug-free lifestyle. The recovery process takes time, commitment, and motivation.
The Recovering Addict
According to the book Substance Abuse and the Family, the recovery process begins with:
- Education: The individual with the substance use disorder begins to learn to deal with their problems without using alcohol or drugs.
- Definition: The recovering individual defines their own personal boundaries. This includes separating their own personal issues from those of other people. One begins to take responsibility for their own behavior and assumes accountability for their own actions.
- Coping: The person with the substance use disorder learns coping methods to restore their emotional, physical, and spiritual energy.
- Confiding: The person with a substance use disorder has at least one other individual in whom they can confide honestly.
The recovery process requires that individuals get help from others, including professional therapists, other recovering addicts, friends, and family members. Often, this process begins during the rehab stay and continues long afterwards.
Things to Avoid
There are several tendencies to avoid when a family member leaves rehab. These include:
- Taking things personally: The early stages of recovery are often very difficult and cumbersome. Individuals in these early stages are often overwhelmed with meetings, therapy sessions, etc. They should be allowed plenty of time to get accustomed to the recovery program. This means that they may not appear to be paying much attention to their family duties/or issues; however, because they are concentrating in recovery, they are making their family a priority. Adhering to a strong recovery program will strengthen the family.
- Pushing too hard: In the early stages of recovery, it is easy for family members to be too strict or to push the recovering individual too hard. As long as they are following the recovery program and doing what they are required to do within the program, they are doing fine. Remember that this is not your recovery program; it is their program.
- Expecting perfection: Individuals in recovery are going to make mistakes. Making mistakes in recovery is a sure way to become stronger and to learn. Expect them to make mistakes. Recovery plans need to be functional, realistic, and have certain realistic consequences for indiscretions. If at all possible, try and discuss this with the individual and their treatment providers (Of course, you need permission from the recovering individual to do this.) and find out what their expectations for recovery are.
- Being afraid of honesty: Do not be afraid to be honest with the individual and expect honesty in return. Sometimes, being honest means admitting that one does not have all the answers. Sometimes, being honest involves telling a person something they do not want to hear. Sometimes, being honest is hearing things you do not want to hear as well.
- Assuming too much: It is far more important to ask questions, get answers, and discuss issues, then it is to assume that the person wants or need something or that you should do something. As part of being honest, it is important to discuss what the person needs from you and what you should expect from them instead of assuming these things.
- Trying to assume control of the individual’s substance use disorder: A huge mistake that family members make is they assume they can get someone sober, keep them on track, or be responsible for the person’s relapse. The only person that is responsible for the substance use disorder is the person with the disorder. Family members should never blame themselves for another person’s substance use disorder or relapse.
- Being judgmental or continuing to bring up past events: The past cannot be undone, and bringing it up is often not a productive approach to recovery. Instead, focus on the present.
Things to Do
There are several important things that family members can do to assist individuals in recovery:
- Express your love and acceptance: Make sure you express your love for the individual, that they are not alone, and that you will be there for them.
- Accept the person without judgment: Many individuals in recovery have quite a bit of guilt as a result of their past. Family members and close friends should approach the individual with praise and acceptance of their decision to get into recovery as opposed to using a critical or negative approach.
- Make sure the environment is free of potential substances of abuse: Although you are not responsible for the individual’s relapse if it happens, you can help them to avoid potential temptations that can lead to slips. All prescription medications, alcohol, drugs, etc., should be removed from the premises.
- Listen: It is extremely therapeutic for anyone to have someone just listen to and identify with them. Individuals in recovery really need people to listen to them, understand their feelings and experiences, and reassure them. If they ask for advice, you can certainly give it; however, actively listening is one of the most important supports family members can give the person in recovery.
- Join a support group: Of course, if the individual is not in a support group, it is important to suggest that they join one, such as a 12-Step group or other support group. In addition, family members can join support groups that cater to family members of individuals in recovery. Some useful support groups include:
- Al-Anon or Alateen for family members of individuals with alcohol use disorders
- Nar-Anon for family members of individuals with different types of addiction
- Co-Dependents Anonymous for family members who believe that they enabled someone with an addiction or who have very complicated and enmeshed relationships with someone in recovery
- Learn to Cope for family members of addicts
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) for parents of addicted individuals
- Have patience: Recovery is a lifelong process. The most important thing is to be patient and be there for the person when they need you. Support them in the good times and in the bad times.
- Learn from others: Part of the reason that one should join a support group for family members of individuals with substance use disorders is to be able to learn from others regarding all aspects of recovery. This involves listening, reflecting, and understanding. Just like one should listen to the family member in recovery, accept them without judgment, be honest with them, and grow with them, one should also use support groups as a source of tutoring and learning as well as psychological and emotional support. Draw on the experiences of others who have been through the same situation.
- Expect bumps in the road: Remember to expect setbacks, mistakes, and other barricades to steady progress. Use them to move forward instead of letting them impede progress.